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Symptoms:

Whenever my Windows XP machine starts up, subfolders disappear from the first top-level folder, listed alphabetically (eg. from "C:\AA Backups"). The first time it happened I suspected user error (such as an unintentional delete or copy). But I then found it happens on every start-up, sometimes affecting huge numbers of files.

What I've tried:

  • Renaming the affected folder (e.g. to "ZZ Backups") just means that a different folder is affected the next time.

  • Avast found no virus or malware that would seem to be responsible.

  • The missing files are not visible to an undelete utility such as NTFSUndelete.

  • Running chkdsk/f found no problems and did not fix the problem.

  • File permissions also appear corrupted – a few files which should be accessible are missing "read" permission.

What's happened to this machine?

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Have you ran a chkdsk? –  Jeff F. May 16 '11 at 13:59
    
The answer to that is already in the question, Jeff F.. –  JdeBP Feb 7 '12 at 11:48

2 Answers 2

Please have a look at msconfig and then the startup tab. Go through the list and look for some suspicious applications.

You could also try to find suspicious software with http://hijackthis.de/en
Download the tool, run it and paste the log on that website. Maybe hijackthis can found something.

(Edit: If you don't find anything, you could paste your hijackthis-log here to let us have look at it)

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It is always possible that your antivirus doesn't like these folders, as it is the most likely candidate for wholesale deletes. Also, the fact that no virus was found doesn't mean that you are not infected.

Try to boot in Safe mode and see if the problem happens again.

If it does, then your Windows is hosed. Do chkdsk, and if nothing is found then reinstall Windows.

If it does not happen, then some installed product is doing this. Uninstall products one after the other, starting with the most likely ones (like the antivirus), until this stops happening. You can also try Autoruns for Windows to just turn off startup items instead of uninstalling.

Sorry that I cannot give a more cheerful answer. Better wait for more answers before starting mass uninstallations - maybe someone else will have a better idea. I also suggest taking a backup of the entire hard disk, to be able to return to the current state if things go bad.

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